Field of Science

The checklist for reading (and writing) science news

Emily Willingham (also on Field of Science) writes a little how to read science news. Because I'm a scientific blogger, this checklist could be useful in order to write better posts. In particular I would emphasize the following paragraphs:
What is the basis of the article? Science news originates from several places. Often it's a scientific paper. These papers come in several varieties. The ones that report a real study--lots of people or mice or flies, lots of data, lots of analysis, a hypothesis tested, statistics done--is considered "original research." Those papers are the only ones that are genuinely original scientific studies. Words to watch for--terms that suggest no original research at all--are "review," "editorial," "perspective," "commentary," "case study" (these typically involve one or only a handful of cases, so no statistical analysis), and "meta-analysis." None of these represents original findings from a scientific study. All but the last two are opinion. Also watch for "scientific meeting" and "conference." That means that this information was presented without peer review at a scientific meeting. It hasn't been vetted in any way.
In this sense the use of Researchblogging is very useful for readers for two reasons: first of all the reader can know the blogger's seriousness, and secondary the widget can say the origin of the researches telled in the post.
Look at the original source of the information. Google is your friend. Is the original source a scientific journal? At the very least, especially for original research, the abstract will be freely available. A news story based on a journal paper should provide a link to that abstract, but many, many news outlets do not do this--a huge disservice to the interested, engaged reader. At any rate, the article probably includes the name of a paper author and the journal of publication, and a quick Google search on both terms along with the subject (e.g., autism) will often find you the paper. If all you find is a news release about the paper--at outlets like ScienceDaily or PhysOrg--you are reading marketing materials. Period. And if there is no mention of publication in a journal, be very, very cautious in your interpretation of what's being reported.
ScienceDaily usually proposes also the link the paper (or to the draft version) also when it isn't in the original press release. In general ScienceDaily and PhysOrg reprint the press release written by the university or by the research team, and if you want read the original press release you can use Google.
I published press release in two cases: in the first case I published the text sended me by a friend about the results of his team research. In the second, recent case I publish some paragraphs from the original press release published on web, embedding some original paragraphs.
In general I try to publish original posts, but sometimes I cannot write post such that, so I use the abstracts (that I publish especially on posterous) or the press release on this blog. Instead on tumblr I use this solution for the quick posts.
Another warranty for the readers are the science blog networks, like FoS: they are generally constituted by researchers and theachers that tell science with passion and competence.
And, in conclusion:
Ask a scientist. Twitter abounds with scientists and sciencey types who may be able to evaluate an article for you. I receive daily requests via email, Facebook, and Twitter for exactly that assistance, and I'm glad to provide it. Seriously, ask a scientist. You'll find it hard to get us to shut up. We do science because we really, really like it. It sure ain't for the money.
In this case I simply share my twitter account, @ulaulaman, and my GPlus account, Gianluigi Filippelli, but if you want ask something or submit a post, you can use also the tumblr form.

Best regards to all, and read science!

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